In the United Kingdom, it is a title of respect previously accorded to men of higher social rank, but which has since come to be used as a general courtesy title for any man in a formal context, usually appended to the name as in "John Smith, Esq.", with no precise significance. Esquire is cognate with the word squire, which originally meant an apprentice or assistant to a knight. The title "Esquire" has been used continuously since it was created in the late 14th century and many uses continue uninterrupted today. For example, in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, "Esquire" is the most junior title. It is also seen in addressing male children too young to be addressed as "Mister"/"Mr.", such as in an invitation to a formal occasion or in legal documents - to emphasize that the intended addressee or referenced individual is a young gentleman.
Chief Justice Coke (1552–1634) defined "gentlemen" as those who bear coat armour, and are therefore superior to esquires. He followed Sir William Camden (1551–1623, Clarenceux King of Arms), who defined esquires as:
- the eldest sons of knights and their eldest sons in perpetuity,
- the eldest sons of younger sons of peers and their eldest sons in perpetuity,
- esquires so created by the king,
- esquires by office, such as justices of the peace and those holding an office of trust under the crown.
...a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself 'Armigero,' in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, 'Armigero.'
to which Shallow directly replies,
Ay, that I do; and have done any time these three hundred years.
Nineteenth century tables of precedences further distinguished between esquires by birth and esquires by office (and likewise for gentlemen). But today the term gentleman is rarely found in official tables of precedence and when it is it invariably means simply a man. One extinct English usage of the term was to distinguish between men of the upper and lower gentry, who were "esquires" and "gentlemen" respectively (between, for example, "Thomas Smith, Esq." and "William Jones, Gent."). Examples of this may be found in the Parish Tithe Map Schedules made under the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. Later examples appear in the list of subscribers to The History of Elton, by the Rev. Rose Fuller Whistler, published in 1892, which distinguishes between subscribers designated Mr (another way of indicating gentlemen) and those allowed Esquire.
According to one typical definition, esquires in English law included:
- The eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons in perpetual succession
- The eldest sons of younger sons of peers, and their eldest sons in perpetual succession (children of peers already had higher precedence)
- Esquires created by letters patent or other investiture, and their eldest sons
- Esquires by virtue of their offices, as Justices of the Peace and others who bear any office of trust under the Crown
- Esquires of knights constituted at their investiture
- Foreign noblemen
- Persons who are so styled under the Royal sign manual (officers of the Armed Forces of or above the rank of Captain in the Army or its equivalent)
- Barristers (but not Solicitors)
A slightly later source defines the term as
Esquire — A rank next below that of Knight. Besides those Esquires who are personal attendants of Knights of Orders of Knighthood, this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign's commission being of military rank not below Captain; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law, Masters of Arts and Bachelors of Law and Physic.
But formal definitions like these were proposed because there was, in reality, no fixed criterion distinguishing those designated Esquire: it was essentially a matter of impression as to whether a person qualified for this status. William Segar, Garter King of Arms (the senior officer of arms at the College of Arms), wrote in 1602: "And who so can make proofe, that his Ancestors or himselfe, have had Armes, or can procure them by purchase, may be called Armiger or Esquier." Honor military, and civill (1602; lib. 4, cap. 15, p. 228). (By Armes he referred to a coat of arms; it is not clear from this quotation whether Segar made a distinction between esquires and gentlemen.) For example, Lords of the Manor held the rank of Esquire by prescription.
Although Esquire is the English translation of the French écuyer, the latter indicated legal membership in the nobilities of ancien régime France and contemporaneous Belgium, whereas an esquire belongs to the British gentry rather than to its nobility, albeit that the term "gentry" in England came to be used to describe what is elsewhere labelled the untitled nobility. Écuyer in French (11th to 14th century) means "Shield-bearer", a knight in training, age 14 to 21. In the later stages of the Middle Ages, the cost of the adoubement or accolade became too high for many noblemen to bear. They stayed écuyers all their lifelong, making these title synonymous with nobleman or gentleman.
The most common occurrence of term Esquire today is the conferral as the suffix "Esq." in order to pay an informal compliment to a male recipient by way of implying gentle birth. Today, there remain respected protocols, especially in the US, for identifying those to whom it is thought most proper that the suffix should be given, especially in very formal or in official circumstances. The social rank of Esquire is that above gentleman.
Modern British usage
The breadth of Esquire (as Esq.) had become universal in the United Kingdom by the mid 20th century, with no distinction in status being perceived between Mr and Esquire. Esquire was used by many individuals and organisations such as banks as the default title of all men who did not have a grander title when addressing correspondence, with letters addressed using the name in initial format (e.g., K.S. Smith, Esq.) but Mr being used as the form of address (e.g. Dear Mr Smith). In the 1970s, the use of Esq. in addressing correspondence, having no female equivalent, started to be perceived as discriminatory, so that by the end of the 20th century many individuals and organisations had stopped using it and changed to using Mr, with Esq. generally considered to be rather old-fashioned, but is still used by some individuals and organisations that wish to give the impression of being 'traditional' such as Christie's and Berry Bros. & Rudd. British men invited to Buckingham Palace receive their invitations in an envelope with the suffix Esq. after their names, while men of foreign nationalities instead have the prefix Mr (women are addressed as Miss, Ms, or Mrs). The same practice applies for other post from the palace (e.g., to employees).
In Scotland, the title of Esquire is an official title (unlike in some other parts of the world) and includes some of those individuals who have been granted personal Arms by the Sovereign through the Court of the Lord Lyon. The bearing of a territorial designation, i.e. being a Laird, is taken to infer the rank of Esquire.
According to the Statutes of 1592 and the Nova Scotia Baronetcy Patents of King Charles I, the Non-Peerage Table of Precedence of Scotland is as follows:
Clan chiefs are considered Esquires, unless they hold a feudal barony or other higher rank. Most of the clan chiefs did in times past, and this is indicated by the style of their helmet befitting his degree as granted to a clan chief by the Lyon Court. A feudal barony is not a peerage title. The Scottish feudal baron, clan chief or laird is addressed as The Much Honoured. A feudal baron was similar to the English Lord of the Manor, but was also afforded the status of minor nobility, although the English Lord of the Manor was also accorded the rank of Esquire by prescription.
Scottish Armigers are those individuals awarded personal Arms by the Court of the Lord Lyon (Ref. Scottish Heraldry), and are an indication of nobility (Edmondson, Complete Body of Heraldry, p. 154). All Scottish Armigers are ennobled in their grant or matriculation of Arms awarded by the Crown or Sovereign through the Court of the Lord Lyon, and by issuance of a warrant from the Lord Lyon King of Arms is so entered in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland through official "Ensigns of Nobility" (Nisbet's Heraldry, iii, ii, 65; and Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Scots Heraldry, p. 20). Without such legal Arms it is practically impossible to prove one's nobiliary status (Cf: Innes of Learney, Sir Thomas (Lord Lyon King of Arms): Scots Heraldry, 2nd ed.  p. 20f; 3rd ed.  p. 13.). Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon, also states, "Technically, a grant of arms from the Lord Lyon is a patent of nobility (also referred to a 'Diploma of Nobility'); the grantee is thereby 'enrolled with all nobles in the noblesse of Scotland'" (Burnett, Charles J and Dennis, Mark D. Scotland's Heraldic Heritage; The Lion Rejoicing The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, 1997).
As evidenced herein, a Scottish Armiger is recognized under Scottish heraldic law as within the non-Peerage rank of gentleman , which is so recognized under Scots law as a social dignity. If associated with a particular Scottish clan they are the gentry of their clan, with a duty and responsibility for the management of their clan in our time; and thereby bound to the principles of Noblesse Oblige.
|This section may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. The specific problem is: the same or similar facts are given several times under separate headings and without logic in order, which slows the reading and makes it harder to understand when and when not to use Esq as a honorific.. (April 2013)|
The title Esquire is not allocated by the law of any State to any profession, class, or station in society. Because it is commonly employed by lawyers, however, use by an unlicensed person may be evidence of the unauthorized practice of law, which can subject a person to sanctions by a state bar association. The concern is that by appending "Esq." to his or her name, a person may create a false perception of acting in the capacity of a lawyer, which might induce a layman to consider the person to be an attorney, and create an attorney-client relationship.
Similarly, when addressing social correspondence to a commissioned officer of the United States Foreign Service, Esquire may be used as a complimentary title. While the abbreviated Esq. is correct, Esquire is typically written in full when addressing a diplomat. If any other titles are used on the same line, Esquire is omitted.
Some fraternal groups use the Esquire title. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks uses the title for an appointed office position. Similar to the old position of assistant to a knight, the BPOE Esquire serves as the chief assistant to the Lodge's Exalted Ruler, and is in charge of the ballot box, instructing and initiating new members, and examining visiting Elks members. One appendant body in Freemasonry also uses Esquire as a degree title.
Use in addressing young men
In extra-legal settings today the use of "Esquire" or its abbreviation "Esq." is occasionally seen as a gently jocular appendage to a very young male addressee's name - such as by a grandmother addressing her young grandson in a letter with the gently and humorously encouraging intention of suggesting the grandson is of noble descent - or with mock pretense by the grandson himself. It is also used in formal, less-jesting address to or by young male children too young to be addressed as "Mister" or "Mr." to emphasize the intention to regard the child as, or the child's obligation or intention to behave as would, a gentleman.
Honorifics are not used with courtesy titles, so John Smith, Esq. or Mr John Smith would be correct, but Mr John Smith, Esq. would be incorrect.
When addressing a person who has an academic degree or other post-nominal professional designation, such as a Certified Public Accountant, a writer should use either the post-nominal designation (usually abbreviated) or the Esq., but not both; as Esquire is a courtesy title, it should not be used with post-nominals.
Before 1947, the term Esquire was used by most senior government officers, especially the former members of the Indian Civil Service and the rest of the higher services of the Imperial Civil Services. The term was used by members of the anglicised segments of the Indian society who could join the government services. It was mostly used by government officials who could claim to have received their legal education in England, especially in either Oxford or Cambridge University, and had become barristers in London.
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- Thompson, Kathryn. Tussle Over Titles, ABA Journal, January 2006.
- The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 25 see statutoril prescribed post-nominal titles of L.M. and N.O. in Schedule B. Form of Certificate.
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- Oxford English Dictionary, second edition (1991)
- Sir Edward Coke, Institutes vol 2, 688
- Burn, Richard; Chitty, J.; Black, Philip (1975 reprint) The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer, pages 884–885. See also pages 540–541 in Vol. II of Burn, Richard The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer. , .
- Boutell, Charles (1899) English Heraldry, page 120; see also , page 120.
- Young, John H. (1881) OUR DEPORTMENT Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society; INCLUDING Forms for Letters, Invitations, Etc., Etc. Also, Valuable Suggestions on Home Culture and Training, Detroit, MICH/Harrisburgh, PA/Chicago, ILL: F. B. Dickerson & Co./Pensylvannia Publishing House/Union Publishing House 
- Dodd, Charles R. (1843) A manual of dignities, privilege, and precedence: including lists of the great public functionaries, from the revolution to the present time, London: Whittaker & Co., p.248 
- , Esquire, Penny cyclopedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol.9-10, p.13, accessed online on 12 March 2012.
- Hardman, Robert (2007-11-29). "Fountain of Honour". Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work. Druck, Wemding, Germany: Ebury Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-09-191842-2. "British men have 'Esq.' after their name [...] whereas all men from overseas are called 'Mr'"
- Adam, F. (1934). The Clans, Septs & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands. W. & A.K. Johnston. p. 410. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
- Non-Peerage Table of Precedence of Scotland
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- McCaffree, Mary Jane; Pauline Innis and Richard M. Sand, Esquire (2002). Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage (25th Anniversary (3rd) ed.). Dallas, Texas: Durban House Publishing Company. ISBN 1-930754-18-3.
- "Appendix VIII. Protocol and Forms of Address". UMW Style Guide. University of Mary Washington. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
- Austin Lodge No 201 BPOE 2007-2008 Committees
- Red Branch of Eri, Allied Masonic Degrees
- Everyday Etiquette, The Emily Post Institute, last accessed 18 September 2008.
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